www.wvgazettemail.com U.S. and World http://www.wvgazettemail.com Gazette archive feed en-us Copyright 2016, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers Fights follow Trump rally in Southern Cal, about 20 arrested http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160429/GZ01/160429472 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160429/GZ01/160429472 Fri, 29 Apr 2016 08:22:16 -0400 By GILLIAN FLACCUS and AMY TAXIN By By GILLIAN FLACCUS and AMY TAXIN Associated Press

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) - Raucous protesters and supporters of Donald Trump took to the streets in California leading to some 20 arrests as the Republican presidential contender brought his campaign to conservative Orange County after sweeping the Northeast GOP primaries.

Dozens of protesters were mostly peaceful Thursday as Trump gave his speech inside the Pacific Amphitheatre. After the event, however, the demonstration grew rowdy late in the evening and spilled into the streets.
Approximately 20 people were arrested by Costa Mesa police, according to a tweet from the Orange County Sheriff's Department. One Trump supporter had his face bloodied in a scuffle as he tried to drive out of the arena. One man jumped on a police car, leaving its front and rear windows smashed and the top dented in and other protests sprayed graffiti on a police car and the venue's marquee.
Dozens of cars -- including those of Trump supporters trying to leave -- were stuck in the street as several hundred demonstrators blocked the road, waved Mexican flags and posed for selfies.
Police in riot gear and on horseback pushed the crowd back and away from the venue. There were no major injuries and police did not use any force. The crowd began dispersing about three hours after the speech ended.
Earlier in the evening, a half-dozen anti-Trump protesters taunted those waiting to get into the venue. Trump supporters surrounded one man who waved a Mexican flag and shouted "Build that wall! Build that wall!" -- a reference to Trump's call to create a barrier between the United States and Mexico to stop illegal border crossings.
At one point, seven women wearing no shirts and Bernie Sanders stickers over their breasts entered the square outside the amphitheater. They said they were protesting Trump's lack of engagement on issues of gender equality and women's rights.
"I feel like he wants to make America great again, but certainly not for women, for the LBGTQ community or for the lower class," said one of the women, Tiernan Hebron. "He has, like, done nothing to help with gender equality or women's rights or reproductive rights or anything."
Trump has drawn large crowds across the country as he has campaigned for the White House and some of his events have been marred by incidents both inside and outside these venues.
Earlier this week, a Trump rally in nearby Anaheim, California, turned contentious when his supporters and protesters clashed, leaving several people struck by pepper spray. Trump was not present.
Trump has drawn large crowds to most of his campaign events, and Thursday was no exception. The Pacific Amphitheatre was filled to its capacity of about 18,000 and many hundreds more were turned away.
Ly Kou, 47, of Ontario, said she likes Trump because he has vowed to put the country first.
"It's obvious that America loves Trump," said Kou, who is from Laos, as she pointed at the waiting throng. "This thing about him being racist? Look around the crowd."
Trump was traveling from the rally site to the state's Republican convention in Burlington in the San Francisco Bay area.

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Treasury official says Harriet Tubman will go on $20 bill http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160420/GZ01/160429970 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160420/GZ01/160429970 Wed, 20 Apr 2016 13:30:59 -0400 By Martin Crutsinger AP Economics Writer By By Martin Crutsinger AP Economics Writer WASHINGTON (AP) - A Treasury official says Secretary Jacob Lew has decided to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, making her the first woman on U.S. paper currency in 100 years.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of Lew's official announcement, says that the 19th century abolitionist and leader of the Underground Railroad, would replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson, the nation's seventh president.

The announcement is expected to provide details on other changes being made to the $20, $10 and $5 bills.

The decision to place Tubman's portrait on the $20 likely means that Lew has decided to keep Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, a victory for those who had opposed his initial plan to remove Hamilton.

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Aid begins to flow in after earthquake kills 246 in Ecuador http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160417/GZ01/160419558 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160417/GZ01/160419558 Sun, 17 Apr 2016 20:14:54 -0400 By Dolores Ochoa and Allen Panchana The Associated Press By By Dolores Ochoa and Allen Panchana The Associated Press PEDERNALES, Ecuador - Aid began to flow in Sunday to areas devastated by Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades and the death toll continued to rise as people left homeless hunkered down for another night outside in the dark.

Officials said the quake killed at least 246 people and injured more than 2,500 along Ecuador's coast. Vice President Jorge Glas said the toll was likely to rise because a large number of people remained unaccounted for, though he declined to say how many.

Much damage was reported in the cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Guayaquil, which are all several hundred miles from the epicenter of the quake that struck shortly after nightfall Saturday.

But the loss of life seemed to be far worse in isolated, smaller towns closed to the center of the earthquake.

In Pedernales, a town of 40,000 near the epicenter, soldiers put up a field hospital in a stadium where hundreds of people prepared to sleep outside for a second straight night. Downed power cables snaked across the streets with no prospect of electricity being restored soon, making it unsafe for many to return to their homes.

The town's mayor said looting broke out Saturday night amid the chaos but with the arrival of 14,000 police and soldiers to towns in the quake zone the situation appeared more under control.

President Rafael Correa, who cut short a trip to Rome to oversee relief efforts, declared a national emergency and urged Ecuadoreans to stay strong.

"Everything can be rebuilt, but what can't be rebuilt are human lives, and that's the most painful," he said in a telephone call to state TV before departing Rome for Manta.

More than 3,000 packages of food and nearly 8,000 sleeping kits were being delivered Sunday. Ecuador's ally, Venezuela, and neighboring Colombia, where the quake was also felt, organized airlifts of humanitarian aid. The European Union, Spain, Peru and Mexico also pledged aid.

Rescuers scrambled through ruins in the provincial capital Portoviejo, digging with their hands trying to find survivors.

"For god's sake help me find my family," pleaded Manuel Quijije, 27, standing next to a wrecked building. He said his older brother, Junior, was trapped under a pile of twisted steel and concrete with two relatives.

"We managed to see his arms and legs. They're his, they're buried, but the police kicked us out because they say there's a risk the rest of the building will collapse," Quijije said angrily as he looked on the ruins cordoned off by police. "We're not afraid. We're desperate. We want to pull out our family."

Electricity mostly remained out in Manabi province, the hardest-hit region, as authorities focused on finding survivors.

"Compatriots: Unity, strength and prayer," the vice president told a throng of people in Manta as he instructed them on how to look for survivors. "We need to be quiet so we can hear. We can't use heavy machinery because it can be very tragic for those who are injured."

On social media, Ecuadorians celebrated a video of a baby girl being pulled from beneath a collapsed home in Manta.

But fear was also spreading of unrest after authorities announced that 180 prisoners from a jail near Portoviejo escaped amid the tumult after the quake.

Shantytowns and cheaply constructed brick and concrete homes were reduced to rubble along the quake's path. In the coastal town of La Esmeralda, authorities estimated than 90 percent of homes had damage, while in Guayaquil a shopping center's roof fell down and a collapsed highway overpass crushed a car. In Manta, the airport closed after the control tower collapsed, injuring an air traffic control worker and a security guard.

In the capital, Quito, terrified people fled into the streets as the quake shook buildings. One resident shot a video of his lamps and hanging houseplants swinging wildly for more than 30 seconds as the building rocked back and forth. The quake knocked out electricity in several neighborhoods and a few homes collapsed, but after a few hours power was being restored.

Among those killed was the driver of a car crushed by an overpass that buckled in Guayaquil, the country's most populous city. Two Canadians were also among the dead. The city's international airport was briefly closed.

The government said it would draw on $600 million in emergency funding from multilateral banks to rebuild.

Hydroelectric dams and oil pipelines in the OPEC-member nation were shut down as a precautionary measure but there were no reports of damage to them.

The U.S. Geological Survey originally put the quake at a magnitude of 7.4 then raised it to 7.8. It had a depth of 12 miles. More than 135 aftershocks followed, one as strong as magnitude-5.6, and authorities urged residents to brace for even stronger ones in the coming hours and days.

The quake was about six times as strong as the most powerful of two deadly earthquakes on the other side the Pacific, in the southernmost of Japan's four main islands. A magnitude-6.5 earthquake struck Thursday near Kumamoto, followed by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake just 28 hours later. Those quakes killed 41 people and injured about 1,500, flattening houses and triggering major landslides.

Susan Hough, a seismologist at the USGS, said evidence exists that extremely large earthquakes can trigger other earthquakes at large distances and that within close distances the frequency of quakes are frequently clustered. But she said there appears no direct relationship between the quakes on opposite sides of the Pacific.

"Nobody has ever demonstrated statistically significant temporal clustering of large quakes worldwide," she said in an email. "Maybe there is something more going on than what we understand."

Associated Press writer Dolores Ochoa reported this story in Pedernales and AP writer Allen Panchana reported from Portivejo. AP writers Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Ecuador, Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.

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Trump seeks to reshape campaign after Wisconsin loss http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160411/GZ01/160419930 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160411/GZ01/160419930 Mon, 11 Apr 2016 08:14:35 -0400 By JONATHAN LEMIRE and JILL COLVIN The Associated Press By By JONATHAN LEMIRE and JILL COLVIN The Associated Press NEW YORK (AP) – When Donald Trump walked onstage for his final rally before Wisconsin's presidential primary, he found an unfamiliar sight: hundreds of empty seats.

The election eve rally at the grand Milwaukee Theatre, which featured the heavily promoted campaign return of the GOP front-runner's wife, was intended as a capstone of Trump's three-day blitz through the state. A big-enough victory could have put Trump on a path to clinch the number of delegates needed to win the nomination before the party's convention in July.
Instead, the half-filled room was an ominous harbinger: He ended up losing to rival Ted Cruz by 13 percentage points.
Trump still holds a solid lead in the race, but the stinging defeat was evidence that his unorthodox campaign – run by largely inexperienced operatives and fueled by the candidate's sheer force of personality – had hit a wall.
The ever-confident Trump canceled his plans for the rest of the week, hunkered down and confronted fears that he was being outmaneuvered.
For nearly a year, the celebrity businessman had kept away from the trappings of a more conventional campaign operation. But days after the Wisconsin loss, he relented on that front as he tried to recapture his momentum and gear up for a potential general election race against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump is bringing in new staff, including a seasoned Washington operative to run his efforts at the convention, where the nomination appears more likely than ever to be decided. He also plans to place new focus on policy.
His team is making more strategic decisions as to how to make best use of Trump's time – the campaign's most valuable asset – starting with a refocused effort to run up the score in the April 19 primary in his home state of New York.
"In many ways, I think it's a recognition that the successful primary campaign that Mr. Trump has run has to shift gears," said adviser Ed Brookover, brought on board to help lead the delegate strategy.
With minimal spending on advertising and a small staff in comparison with Clinton's, the Trump campaign has upended the political orthodoxy by riding large rallies and a knack for earning free media, and risen to the top of the GOP race.
But Wisconsin showed the limitations of that strategy.
The state's Republican establishment coalesced around Cruz. Leading the way was Gov. Scott Walker, who had dropped out of the White House race last year and warned against Trump's ascendance. The state's influential conservative talk radio circuit proved an unfriendly venue to a candidate who has glided effortlessly through so many interviews.
Trump also found himself on the defensive after retweeted unflattering photo of Cruz's wife, and committed what may have been the first costly gaffe of his bid when he bungled a question about abortion.
His insular campaign leadership, featuring a tiny inner circle led by campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who's facing charges of battery after an incident with a reporter, seemed ill-equipped to compete in the bruising and complex fight to line up the support of delegates who will attend the national convention.
In Colorado, for instance, Cruz-supporting delegates swept local contests while Trump's team made repeated flubs. The campaign fired its Colorado state director just after he had arrived. The new director, Patrick Davis, started running Trump's fledgling operation after Cruz had snapped up nearly one-sixth of the state's delegates.
Trump and his team had largely assumed he would have the race all but locked up after winning Florida in mid-March, and had largely failed to prepare for a potential fight at the convention. It was then, even before the resounding defeat in Wisconsin, when Roger Stone, a former Trump campaign aide and longtime adviser, put Trump in touch with Paul Manafort, a veteran of numerous conventions.
As part of the campaign shuffle, Manafort will be "responsible for all activities that pertain to Mr. Trump's delegate process and the Cleveland convention," according to a campaign statement.
It is not clear precisely how Lewandowski now fits into the campaign operation. He is expected to continue to have a prominent role that will including traveling with the candidate – highly unusual for a campaign manager.
Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi in Colorado Springs, Colorado, contributed to this report.
Follow Jonathan Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JonLemire and Jill Colvin at http://twitter.com/colvinj

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Battle between religious and gay rights splits GOP states http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160406/GZ01/160409740 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160406/GZ01/160409740 Wed, 6 Apr 2016 08:50:49 -0400 By David A. Lieb Associated Press By By David A. Lieb Associated Press JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Republican lawmakers upset about the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage have advanced measures in about a dozen states this year that could strengthen protections for those who refuse on religious grounds to provide services to same-sex couples.

The bills could benefit court clerks, photographers, florists, bakers, wedding-hall operators and others who say gay matrimony goes against their beliefs.

For a party already being torn apart by the presidential contest, the state legislative efforts have exposed deep rifts between the GOP's social conservatives and its pro-business wing. Business leaders worry that such measures will allow discrimination and scare away companies and major events.

So far, only a few proposals have become law. Those include narrowly tailored protections shielding Florida clergy from having to perform same-sex weddings and college religious organizations in Kansas from losing aid.

A far more sweeping one was signed into law Tuesday by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, despite objections from some major corporations. It creates a religious shield from government penalties for an array of people and organizations, including marriage-license clerks, adoption agencies, counselors and more than a dozen categories of businesses that provide wedding-related services. It applies not only to those with religious beliefs about gay marriage, but also to those who believe that sex outside marriage is wrong and that sexual identity is determined at birth.

Other broadly written proposals have failed, stalled or are still working their way through legislatures. Some examples:

- Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia last week vetoed a religious protection bill passed by the GOP-led House, siding with top business executives who threatened boycotts and dire economic consequences.

- A GOP-passed bill shielding clergy and religious groups from participating in gay marriages was vetoed last week by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, who cited opposition from corporate leaders.

- In Tennessee, a coalition that includes the American Counseling Association launched an online ad campaign against the Republican House speaker over a bill that would let counselors turn away patients based on religious beliefs. The ad warns: "Businesses won't come to a state that discriminates."

- In Missouri, scores of activists rallied at the Capitol to protest a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit penalties against those who decline on religious grounds to provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples. The state Chamber of Commerce and Industry also came out against it.

"This is a unique issue because two of the primary bases of the Republican Party are both the business interest and the social conservative. It's rare, but occasionally those interests are not aligned," said Missouri state Rep. Elijah Haahr, chairman of the committee considering the measure.

In several states, major businesses and sports organizations - including Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Walt Disney Co., the NFL and the NCAA - have joined lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists in raising concerns that such measures could legalize discrimination.

Some religious leaders have countered that it is the faithful who face discrimination for living according to their beliefs. They cite government fines and lawsuits against florists, bakers and photographers who declined to do work for same-sex weddings.

"Good and commonsense bills that simply underscore or protect freedoms that we've had since the founding of our country are being attacked by large corporations seeking to thwart the democratic process," said Kellie Fiedorek, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based group that has backed religious-objection legislation and led court fights in various states.

More than 60 state legislative measures allowing for religious refusals at the expense of LGBT rights have been introduced, according to the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign.

"We're seeing definitely a greater number this year," including many with consequences that would be far-reaching, said Sara Warbelow, the campaign's legal director.

The battle came to the national forefront last spring when Indiana and Arkansas passed religious protection measures, then revised them after a backlash from businesses. Social conservatives intensified their push after the Supreme Court ruled in June that gay marriage is legal everywhere in the U.S.

Supporters say the measures are necessary to protect people such as Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who were fined $13,000 for violating New York's anti-discrimination law after they declined to host a lesbian wedding at their Liberty Ridge Farm north of Albany in 2013.

The Giffords stopped hosting weddings altogether. But after recently losing an appeal, Cynthia Gifford said they plan to resume their wedding business. They will allow gay couples to get married on their property without personally participating in the ceremonies.

"It would have been nice to be protected by the law," she said. "This has been financially tragic for our family."

Opponents of religious protection measures argue they could harm states financially by discouraging major businesses from hosting events or expanding operations in places seen as hostile toward gay employees or customers.

The economic effect of such measures is open to debate.

A survey by the tourism promotion group Visit Indy found that Indiana's new law played a role in 12 conventions going elsewhere, costing Indianapolis as much as $60 million in economic benefits. But that's just a fraction of the 1,100 conventions bid on by the city.

Indianapolis still reaped a record $4.5 billion in economic benefits from tourism in 2015. It also booked more future convention business than any year before, thanks to a surge from Indiana-based organizations that offset a decline from out-of-state businesses, said Visit Indy Vice President Chris Gahl.

While some Republican lawmakers this year have pointed to Indiana as a reason for caution, others have brushed aside threats of boycotts. In Georgia, the governor's veto rankled many religious conservatives.

"This is why people are angry with the politicians of our nation," said Tanya Ditty, Georgia director of Concerned Women for America, a Christian group. "They are not elected to represent Hollywood values, nor Wall Street values. They're elected to represent the voters of Georgia, and that does not preclude people of faith."

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Cruz win in Wisconsin leaves Trump damaged front-runner http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160406/GZ01/160409744 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160406/GZ01/160409744 Wed, 6 Apr 2016 08:46:44 -0400 By JULIE PACE and JONATHAN LEMIRE By By JULIE PACE and JONATHAN LEMIRE Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - Republican Donald Trump emerged from Wisconsin as a damaged front-runner following a crushing loss to rival Ted Cruz, deepening questions about the billionaire businessman's presidential qualifications and pushing the GOP toward a rare contested convention fight.

Democrat Bernie Sanders also scored a sweeping victory in Wisconsin's primary that gives him a fresh incentive to keep challenging Hillary Clinton. But Sanders still lags Clinton significantly in the delegate count.
Both parties are turning their sights toward New York, which offers a massive delegate prize in its April 19 contests. It marks a homecoming of sorts for several candidates, with Trump, Clinton and Sanders all touting roots in the state.
Trump, who has dominated the Republican race for months, suddenly finds himself on the defensive as the campaign moves east. He's struggled through a series of missteps, including his campaign manager's legal issues after an altercation with a female reporter and his own awkward explanation of his position on abortion.
Exit polls in Wisconsin highlighted the deep worries about Trump surging through some corners of the Republican Party. A majority of GOP voters said they're either concerned about or scared of a potential Trump presidency, according to surveys conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks.
Cruz has stepped forward as the candidate best positioned to block Trump, though it would likely take a convention battle to accomplish that goal. A Texas senator with a complicated relationship with Republican leaders, Cruz cast his Wisconsin victory as a "turning point" in the race and urged the party to rally around his candidacy.
Even if Cruz's gains do force the GOP race into a contested convention in July, it is unclear whether he would emerge as the nominee, or whether the party would try to put forward someone else.
Trump was unbowed in his defeat. His campaign put out a biting statement accusing Cruz of being "worse than a puppet - he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump."
The billionaire's campaign also suggested in the statement that Cruz is illegally coordinating with his own special interest group.
In response, Cruz' communications director Jason Miller said late Tuesday that "Donald Trump has a real problem when he gets his tail kicked, and that's exactly what happened tonight."
Sanders still trails Clinton in the pledged delegate count and has so far been unable to persuade superdelegates- the party officials who can back any candidate - to drop their allegiance to the former secretary of state and back his campaign.
At a raucous rally in Wyoming, Sanders cast his victory as a sign of mounting momentum for his campaign.
"With our victory tonight in Wisconsin, we have now won 7 out of 8 of the last caucuses and primaries," he declared.
With an overwhelming white electorate and liberal pockets of voters, Wisconsin was favorable territory for Sanders. In a sign of Clinton's low expectations in the Midwestern state, she spent Tuesday night at a fundraiser with top donors in New York City.
Clinton congratulated Sanders on Twitter and thanked her supporters in Wisconsin. "To all the voters and volunteers who poured your hearts into this campaign: Forward!" she wrote.
Sanders' win will net him a handful of additional delegates, but he'll still lag Clinton significantly. With 86 delegates at stake in Wisconsin, Sanders will pick up at least 47 and Clinton will gain at least 36.
That means Sanders must still win 68 percent of the remaining delegates and uncommitted superdelegates in order to win the Democratic nomination.
Clinton's campaign has cast her overall lead as nearly insurmountable. Yet Sanders' continued presence in the race has become an irritant for Clinton, keeping her from turning her attention to the general election.
In the Republican race, Cruz was poised to collect most of Wisconsin's 42 Republican delegates.
Trump still has a narrow path to claim the nomination by the end of the primaries on June 7. But by losing Wisconsin, the real estate mogul has little room for error in upcoming contests.
Complicating the primary landscape for both Cruz and Trump is the continuing candidacy of John Kasich. The Ohio governor's only victory has come in his home state, but he's still picking up delegates that would otherwise help Trump inch closer to the nomination or help Cruz catch up.
To win a prolonged convention fight, a candidate would need support from the individuals selected as delegates. The process of selecting those delegates is tedious, and will test the mettle of Trump's slim campaign operation.
Cruz prevailed in an early organizational test in North Dakota, scooping up endorsements from delegates who were selected at the party's state convention over the weekend. While all 28 go to the national convention as free agents, 10 said in interviews they were committed to Cruz. None has so far endorsed Trump.
Despite the concern among some Wisconsin Republicans about Trump becoming president, nearly 6 in 10 GOP voters there said the party should nominate the candidate with the most support in the primaries, which so far would be Trump. Even among voters who favored Cruz, 4 in 10 said the candidate with the most support going into the convention should be the party's nominee.
Pace reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Hope Yen, Stephen Ohlemacher and Emily Swanson contributed to this report.
Follow Julie Pace on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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PayPal cancels North Carolina expansion over discrimination law http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160405/GZ01/160409795 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160405/GZ01/160409795 Tue, 5 Apr 2016 11:48:35 -0400 By Emery P. Dalesio AP Business Writer By By Emery P. Dalesio AP Business Writer RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - PayPal says it's canceling plans to bring 400 jobs to North Carolina after lawmakers passed a law that restricts protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The San Jose, California-based company said Tuesday it was canceling its planned expansion in Charlotte because of the law, which was signed March 23. Gov. Pat McCrory was on hand to celebrate days earlier when PayPal announced plans to hire about 400 people at a new operation center in Charlotte.

The PayPal announcement is the biggest tangible economic backlash to the state law that more than 100 corporate heads have decried as unfair. They say the law makes it more difficult to attract talent to North Carolina.

"This decision reflects PayPal's deepest values and our strong belief that every person has the right to be treated equally, and with dignity and respect," the company said in a statement.

Spokesmen for McCrory and legislative leaders did not immediately comment.

The legislation marked the first state law in the nation limiting the bathroom options for transgender people, requiring them to use those conforming to the sex on their birth certificates. The law also excludes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from anti-discrimination protections, and blocks municipalities from adopting their own anti-discrimination and living wage rules.

New Jersey-based Braeburn Pharmaceuticals said last week the legislation was causing it to reevaluating whether to build a $20 million manufacturing and research facility in Durham County. The 50 new jobs paying an average of nearly $76,000 a year were announced two weeks ago.

Lionsgate, the California-based entertainment company, shifted a planned shoot for the pilot episode for a comedy series to Canada. Charlotte convention officials and the organizers of one of the world's largest furniture markets say some customers have pulled out, also citing the new law.

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U.S. Capitol locked down after report of shots http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160328/GZ01/160329556 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160328/GZ01/160329556 Mon, 28 Mar 2016 15:03:54 -0400 WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Capitol Police are telling staff in the Capitol complex to shelter in place after a report of gunshots being fired in the Capitol Visitors Center.

The White House also was put on lockdown because of the report.

Officials say one Capitol police officer was shot, not seriously, and a shooter is in custody.

The situation was apparently contained to the Visitors Center but no further information was immediately available.

A Capitol Police spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Federal officials, advocates push pill-tracking databases http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160328/GZ01/160329562 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160328/GZ01/160329562 Mon, 28 Mar 2016 08:58:55 -0400 By Matthew Perrone AP Health Writer By By Matthew Perrone AP Health Writer WASHINGTON (AP) - The nation's top health officials are stepping up calls to require doctors to log in to pill-tracking databases before prescribing painkillers and other high-risk drugs.

The move is part of a multi-pronged strategy by the Obama administration to tame an epidemic of abuse and death tied to opioid painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin. But physician groups see a requirement to check databases before prescribing popular drugs for pain, anxiety and other ailments as being overly burdensome.

Helping push the administration's effort forward is an unusual, multi-million lobbying campaign funded by a former corporate executive who has turned his attention to fighting addiction.

"Their role is to say what needs to be done, my role is to get it done," says Gary Mendell, CEO of the non-profit Shatterproof, which is lobbying in state capitals to tighten prescribing standards for addictive drugs.

Mendell founded the group in 2011, after his son committed suicide following years of addiction to painkillers. Previously Mendell was CEO of HEI Hotels and Resorts, which operates upscale hotels. To date, Mendell has invested $4.1 million of his own money in the group to hire lobbyists, public relations experts and 12 full-time staffers.

A new report from Shatterproof lays out key recommendations to improve prescription monitoring systems, which are currently used in 49 states.

The systems collect data on prescriptions for high-risk drugs that can be viewed by doctors and government officials to spot suspicious patterns. The aim is to stop "doctor shopping," where patients rack up multiple prescriptions from different doctors, either to satisfy their own drug addiction or to sell on the black market. But in most states, doctors are not required to check the databases before writing prescriptions.

Last week, the White House sent letters to all 50 U.S. governors recommending that they require doctors to check the databases and require pharmacists to upload drug dispensing data on a daily basis.

The databases are "a proven tool for reducing prescription drug misuse and diversion," said Michael Botticelli, National Drug Control Policy Director, in a statement.

But government health officials say virtually all state systems need improvements, including more up-to-date information.

"There isn't yet a single state in the country that has an optimal prescription drug monitoring program that works in real time, actively managing every prescription," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a press conference last week.

Physicians warn about the unintended consequences of mandating use of programs that can be slow and difficult to use. Patients may face longer waits and less time with their physicians, says Dr. Steven Sacks, president of the American Medical Association.

"There really is a patient safety and quality-of-care cost when you mandate the use of tools that are not easy to use," Sacks said.

The report from Shatterproof highlights the gaps in current prescribing systems. When doctors are not required to log in, they generally only do so 14 percent of the time, according to data from Brandeis University.

The report points to positive results in seven states that have mandated database usage: Kentucky, New York, Tennessee, Connecticut, Ohio, Wisconsin and Massachusetts. In Kentucky, deaths linked to prescription opioids fell 25 percent after the state required log-ins in 2012, along with other steps designed to curb inappropriate prescribing.

The same information can be used to prevent deadly drug interactions between opioids and other common medications, including anti-anxiety drugs like Valium of Xanax.

Opioids are highly addictive drugs that include both prescription painkillers like codeine and morphine, as well as illegal narcotics, like heroin. Deaths linked to opioid misuse and abuse have increased fourfold since 1999 to more than 29,000 in 2014, the highest figure on record, according to the CDC.

Earlier this month the CDC released the first-ever national guidelines for prescribing opioids, urging doctors to try non-opioid painkillers, physical therapy and other methods for treating chronic pain.

But pain specialists fear requiring pill-tracking databases will discourage doctors from prescribing the drugs even when appropriate, leaving patients in pain. Dr. Gregory Terman says it takes him three minutes to log in to the system used in his home state of Washington.

"If it was easier to use, more people would use it," said Terman, who is president of the American Pain Society, a group which accepts money from pain drugmakers. Like many physicians, Terman says he supports the technology but doesn't think it should be required.

Last week, two states targeted by Shatterproof signed into law database-checking requirements: Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Mendell says his staffers are lobbying now in California and Maryland.

"I don't think we can afford to wait decades for this to slowly get implemented into the system," he says. "I think we need to take action now."

On the Web: http://www.shatterproof.org/

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US Muslims dismiss Cruz call for surveillance http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160323/GZ01/160329746 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160323/GZ01/160329746 Wed, 23 Mar 2016 20:32:37 -0400 By Gillian Flaccus and Jeff Karoub The Associated Press By By Gillian Flaccus and Jeff Karoub The Associated Press ANAHEIM, Calif. - A few miles from Disneyland is a place most California tourists never see. The signs along the thoroughfare suddenly switch to Arabic script, advertising hookah shops, Middle Eastern sweets, halal meat and travel services.

At a run-down strip mall in the neighborhood known as Little Arabia, flags from a half-dozen Muslim countries flap in a stiff breeze. Flying above them is a giant American flag.

After Sen. Ted Cruz called for increased surveillance of Muslims in the United States in the aftermath of Tuesday's deadly ISIL attack on Brussels, Belgium, many people in this community and others like it either challenged the Republican presidential candidate or dismissed his comments as mostly meaningless rhetoric.

Majd Takriti, 43, stopped to discuss Cruz's remarks as he picked up his mother from a butcher shop. He said he took Cruz and rival Donald Trump with a grain of salt.

"A lot of what they say is to attract attention," he said.

A block down the street, Jordanian native and 44-year U.S. resident Wathiq Bilbeisi slurped on lentil soup during his break at a Jordanian restaurant. He seemed mystified by the concern among some non-Muslim Americans about the candidates' comments.

"The politicians, they want to say whatever the constituents want to hear," he said. "I don't think they mean what they say, and in the end, they'll have to come to terms with themselves."

Bilbeisi isn't worried about the GOP seeking major changes to U.S. law.

"When they go to Congress to get laws to watch the Muslims, nobody's going to do anything about it," he said. "It's against American values."

At a nearby hookah shop displaying pipes in a rainbow of colors, employee Guss Zayat said Cruz has a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam.

Zayat, who came to America from Beirut about three years ago, questioned whether ISIL members are true Muslims.

"They are killing more Muslims than anyone else in this world. They are killing children. They are killing Christians and Muslims in our home countries," he said. Politicians "should know the difference between ISIL and Islam."

Cruz's statement Tuesday came hours after the attacks at the Brussels airport and a subway station that killed dozens of people and wounded many more. The militant Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has claimed responsibility.

He said law enforcement should be empowered to "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized." Echoing earlier statements from Trump, Cruz also said the United States should stop the flow of refugees from countries where ISIL has a significant presence.

Muslim groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Jewish Anti-Defamation League condemned Cruz's statements. Many complained that the Islamic extremist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and the intensifying rhetoric of the presidential campaign, have bred animosity toward American Muslims.

In Washington, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was asked Wednesday at a news conference about calls to step up patrols of Muslim communities. She said the Muslim community "is one of our greatest partners in our fight against terrorism and public safety, generally."

Ahmad Tarek Rashid Alam, publisher of the weekly Arabic-language Arab World newspaper and one of the immigrants who helped build Little Arabia, said anti-Muslim statements are "nothing new."

"This has been going on in every Islamic neighborhood for years," he said. "But now our kids are in the police, in the Army. Are they going to watch us?"

He said Cruz's remarks seemed aimed at exploiting prejudice to get votes.

"The way he talks, it could work maybe 40 years ago," Alam said, "but now, it's too late; Islam is part of the country. We are already in the country. We're part of the country, whether he likes it or not."

Sam Chashku, a Syrian immigrant who arrived in 1996 and married an American-born Christian woman, said Cruz's comments simply made him sad.

"We love this country," he said. "We came from nothing. They gave us everything. It's crazy. This country is built on immigrants."

Sometimes, he said, he doesn't want to tell anyone that he's Muslim because "people get offended, and I'm scared of hate crimes."

Trump, who has proposed a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the United States, praised Cruz's plan in an interview with CNN as a "good idea" that he supports "100 percent."

Speaking Tuesday in New York, Cruz praised the city's former program of surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods. He called for its reinstatement and said it could be a model for police departments nationwide.

After the 9/11 al-Qaida attack, the New York Police Department used its intelligence division to cultivate informants in Muslim communities. In a series of articles, The Associated Press revealed that authorities had infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups and investigated hundreds of them.

The program was disbanded amid complaints of religious and racial profiling.

The Detroit suburb of Dearborn is widely known as the hometown of Henry Ford, who hired Arabs and Muslims in the early days of the Ford Motor Co. and helped create what is now one of the nation's largest and most concentrated communities of residents who trace their roots to the Middle East.

Kebba Kah, a 46-year-old Ford employee who was entering a mosque in Dearborn for evening prayers Tuesday, said the bombings in Brussels were "a very terrible thing," and insisted such attacks are roundly rejected by all Muslims, save for "a few radical groups."

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FDA adds warning to widely used painkillers http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160323/GZ01/160329782 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160323/GZ01/160329782 Wed, 23 Mar 2016 12:15:43 -0400 By Matthew Perrone The Associated Press By By Matthew Perrone The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Federal health regulators will add their strongest warning labels to the most widely used prescription painkillers, part of a multi-pronged government campaign to reverse an epidemic of abuse and death tied to drugs like Vicodin and Percocet.

The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday plans to add a boxed warning - the most serious type - to all immediate-release opioid painkillers, which include roughly 175 branded and generic drugs.

Those medications, which often combine oxycodone with lower-grade pain relievers, are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S. and account for 90 percent of all opioid painkillers prescribed.

The long-awaited change comes roughly three years after the FDA added similar warnings to long-acting opioid drugs like OxyContin, which slowly release their doses over 12 hours or more. The labeling switch means both immediate and extended-release formulations will highlight information about the risks of addiction, abuse, overdose and death.

"We're at a time when the unfathomable tragedies resulting from addiction, overdose and death have become one of the most urgent and devastating public health crises facing our country," FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said on a call with reporters. "I can't stress enough how critical it is for prescribers to have the most current information."

Critics of the FDA's approach to opioids, including the group Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, have long called on the agency to bolster warnings on immediate-release opioids.

"The main driver of our opioid epidemic is addiction, and the immediate-release products are just as addictive ... that's why they should be prescribed more cautiously," said the group's founder, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, an addiction therapist.

The new label specifies that the drugs should only be used for pain that cannot be managed with other medications and alternative therapies.

"This new indication, once finalized, will remind prescribers that immediate-release opioids are also powerful drugs with important safety concerns," said Dr. Doug Throckmorton, a deputy director in the FDA's drug center.

Throckmorton said the agency's 2013 labeling change focused on long-acting drugs like OxyContin because they represented a "disproportionate risk" to patients, since they contain larger opioid levels.

But lawmakers from states that have been plagued by opioid addiction said such labeling changes have "done little" to stem the problem.

"Unfortunately, it has taken FDA far too long to address the grave risks of these drugs that have claimed the lives of thousands this year alone," said Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

Opioids are a class of powerful and highly addictive drugs that include both prescription drugs like codeine and hydrocodone, as well as illegal narcotics, like heroin. Prescription opioids accounted for over $9 billion in sales last year for companies like Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceutical, Purdue Pharma and others.

Deaths linked to misuse and abuse of prescription opioids climbed to 19,000 in 2014, the highest figure on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heroin and opioid painkillers combined caused 28,650 fatal overdoses. Many prescription opioid abusers eventually switch to heroin because it sells for far less than black market pills and tablets.

Government officials have already tried a variety of approaches to tackling painkiller abuse in recent years. The FDA previously restricted drugs like Vicodin to limit refills and who can prescribe them. States like Florida and New York have cracked down on "pill mills" using databases to monitor what doctors are prescribing. Earlier this month, Massachusetts signed into law a seven-day limit on first-time prescriptions for opioids - the first of its kind in the nation.

The FDA announcement comes less than a week after the CDC released the first-ever national prescribing guidelines for using opioids. The agency said primary care doctors should only turn to opioids after considering physical therapy, over-the-counter medications, counseling and other methods for treating chronic pain. When prescribing opioids for short-term pain, the agency said doctors should prescribe a three-day supply, whenever possible.

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Islamic State claims bombings in Brussels that killed at least 31 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160322/GZ01/160329861 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160322/GZ01/160329861 Tue, 22 Mar 2016 07:43:59 -0400 By Raf Casert and Raphael Satter By By Raf Casert and Raphael Satter The Associated Press

BRUSSELS - Islamic extremists struck Tuesday in the heart of Europe, killing at least 31 people and wounding scores of others in back-to-back bombings of the Brussels airport and subway that again laid bare the continent's vulnerability to suicide squads.

Bloodied and dazed travelers staggered from the airport after two explosions - at least one blamed on a suicide attacker and another reportedly on a suitcase bomb - tore through crowds checking in for morning flights. About 40 minutes later, another blast struck subway commuters in central Brussels near the Maelbeek station, which sits amid the European Commission headquarters.

Authorities released a photo taken from closed-circuit TV footage of three men pushing luggage carts, saying two of them apparently were the suicide bombers and that the third - dressed in a light-colored coat, black hat and glasses - was at large. They urged the public to contact them if they recognized him. The two men believed to be the suicide attackers apparently were wearing dark gloves on their left hands.

In police raids across Brussels, authorities later found a nail-filled bomb, chemical products and an Islamic State flag in a house in the Schaerbeek neighborhood, the state prosecutors' office said in a statement.

In its claim of responsibility, the Islamic State group said its members detonated suicide vests both at the airport and in the subway, where many passengers fled to safety down dark tunnels filled with hazy smoke from the explosion in a train pulling away from the platform.

European security officials have been bracing for a major attack for weeks and warned that IS was actively preparing to strike. The arrest Friday of Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, heightened those fears, as investigators said many more people were involved than originally thought and that some are still on the loose.

"In this time of tragedy, this black moment for our country, I appeal to everyone to remain calm but also to show solidarity," said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who announced three days of mourning in his country's deadliest terror strike.

"Last year it was Paris. Today it is Brussels. It's the same attacks," said French President Francois Hollande.

Belgium raised its terror alert to the highest level, shut the airport through Wednesday and ordered a city-wide lockdown, deploying about 500 soldiers onto Brussels' largely empty streets to bolster police checkpoints. France and Belgium both reinforced border security.

Medical officials treating the wounded said some victims lost limbs, while others suffered burns or deep gashes from shattered glass or suspected nails packed in with explosives. Among the most seriously wounded were several children.

The bombings came barely four months after suicide attackers based in Brussels' Molenbeek district slaughtered 130 people at Paris nightspots, and intelligence agencies had warned for months a follow-up strike was inevitable. Those fears increased following Abdeslam's arrest in Molenbeek, along with police admissions that others suspected of links to the Paris attacks were at large.

A high-level Belgian judicial official said a connection by Abdeslam to Tuesday's attacks is "a lead to pursue." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Abdeslam has told investigators he was planning to "restart something" from Brussels, said Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders. He said Sunday that authorities took the claim seriously because "we found a lot of weapons, heavy weapons in the first investigations and we have seen a new network of people around him in Brussels."

While they knew that some kind of extremist act was being prepared in Europe, they were surprised by the size of Tuesday's attacks, said Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon.

"It was always possible that more attacks could happen, but we never could have imagined something of this scale," he said.

Officials at the airport in the Brussels suburb of Zaventem said police had discovered a Kalashnikov assault rifle and an explosives-packed vest abandoned at the facility, offering one potential lead for forensic evidence. Bomb disposal experts safely dismantled that explosive device.

Shockwaves from the attacks crossed the Atlantic, where city and airport officials at several U.S. cities increased security force deployments and raised security levels. A U.S. administration official said American intelligence officers were working with European counterparts to try to identify the apparently skilled bomb-maker or makers involved in the Brussels attacks and to identify any links to bombs used in Paris.

The official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the investigations and demanded anonymity, told The Associated Press that at least one of the bombs at the airport was suspected to have been packed into a suitcase left in the departures hall.

Three intelligence officials in Iraq told the AP that they had warned European colleagues last month of IS plans to attack airports and trains, although Belgium wasn't specified as a likely target. The officials, who monitor activities in the IS stronghold of Raqqa, said Brussels may have become a target because of the arrest of Abdeslam.

One of the officials - all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about their knowledge of IS operations - said Iraqi intelligence officials believe that three other IS activists remain at large in Brussels and are plotting other suicide-bomb attacks.

European leaders already struggling to cope with a wave of migration from the war-torn Middle East said they must rely on better anti-terrorist intelligence work to identify an enemy that wears no uniform and seeks the softest of targets. They emphasized that Europe must remain tolerant to Muslims as they seek to identify the Islamic State needles in that ever-growing haystack.

Leaders of the 28-nation bloc said in a joint statement that Tuesday's assault on Brussels "only strengthens our resolve to defend European values and tolerance from the attacks of the intolerant."

The United Nations' lead official for Middle East refugees, Amin Awad, warned that Europe faced an increasing risk of racist retaliation against Muslim immigrant communities. "Any sort of hostilities because of the Brussels attack or Paris attack is misplaced," Awad said.

Reflecting the trauma of the moment, Belgian officials offered uncertain casualty totals at both the airport and subway, where police conducted controlled explosions on suspicious abandoned packages that ultimately were found to contain no explosives.

Belgium's health minister, Maggie de Block, said 11 people were killed and 81 injured at the airport, where thousands of passengers were waiting to check luggage and collect boarding cards.

Video posted on social media showed people cowering on the ground in the wake of the blasts, the air acrid with smoke, windows of shops and the terminal entrance shattered, and fallen ceiling tiles littering the blood-streaked floor.

Some witnesses described hearing two distinct blasts, with shouts apparently in Arabic from at least one attacker before the second, bigger explosion.

Zach Mouzoun, who arrived on a flight from Geneva about 10 minutes before the airport blasts, told BFM television that pipes ruptured, sending a cascade of water mixing with victims' blood.

"It was atrocious. The ceilings collapsed. There was blood everywhere, injured people, bags everywhere," he said. "We were walking in the debris. It was a war scene."

Marc Noel was about to board a Delta flight to Atlanta. The Belgian native, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, said the first blast happened about 50 yards (meters) from him. "People were crying, shouting, children. ... It was a horrible experience," he said.

A random decision to pause in a shop to buy a magazine may have saved his life. Otherwise, he said, "I would probably have been in that place when the bomb went off."

Anthony Deloos, an airport worker for Swissport, which handles check-in and baggage services, said the first blast took place near the Swissport counters where customers pay for overweight bags. He and a colleague said the second blast struck near a Starbucks cafe.

Deloos said a colleague shouted at him to run as the blast sent clouds of shredded paper billowing through the air, and "I jumped into a luggage chute to be safe."

Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur said 20 people died and more than 100 were wounded in the subway blast. Rescue workers set up makeshift first aid centers in a nearby pub and hotel.

Passengers on other trains said many commuters were reading about the airport attacks on their smartphones when they heard the subway blast. Hundreds fled from stopped trains down tunnel tracks to adjacent stations. Many told stories of having missed the bomb by minutes or seconds.

"It was panic everywhere. There were a lot of people in the metro," said commuter Alexandre Brans, wiping blood from his face.

Political leaders and others around the world expressed their shock at the attacks.

"We will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally Belgium in bringing to justice those who are responsible," U.S. President Barack Obama said.

Belgium's king and queen said they were "devastated" by the violence, describing the attacks as "odious and cowardly."

After nightfall, Europe's best-known monuments - the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate and the Trevi Fountain - were illuminated with Belgium's national colors in a show of solidarity.

Associated Press writers Lorne Cook, John-Thor Dahlburg and Angela Charlton in Brussels, Lori Hinnant and Elaine Ganley in Paris, Jill Lawless in London, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad, Bradley Klapper in Washington and Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.

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Obama, Castro lay bare tensions on embargo, human rights http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160321/GZ01/160329879 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160321/GZ01/160329879 Mon, 21 Mar 2016 20:38:00 -0400 By Julie Pace and Michael Weissenstein The Associated Press By By Julie Pace and Michael Weissenstein The Associated Press HAVANA - Laying bare a half-century of tensions, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro prodded each other Monday over human rights and the long-standing U.S. economic embargo during an unprecedented joint news conference that stunned Cubans unaccustomed to their leaders being aggressively questioned.

The exchanges underscored deep divisions that still exist between two countries despite rapidly improved relations in the 15 months since Obama and Castro surprised the world with an announcement to end their Cold War-era diplomatic freeze.

Obama, standing in Havana's Palace of the Revolution on the second day of his historic visit to Cuba, repeatedly pushed Castro to take steps to address his country's human rights record.

"We continue, as President Castro indicated, to have some very serious differences, including on democracy and human rights," said Obama, who planned to meet with Cuban dissidents Tuesday. Still, Obama heralded a "new day" in the U.S.-Cuba relationship and said "part of normalizing relations means we discuss these differences directly."

Castro was blistering in his criticism of the American embargo, which he called "the most important obstacle" to his country's economic development. He also pressed Obama to return the Guantanamo detention center, which is on the island of Cuba, to his government.

"There are profound differences between our countries that will not go away," Castro said plainly.

White House officials spent weeks pushing their Cuban counterparts to agree for the leaders to take questions from reporters after their private meeting, reaching agreement just hours before Obama and Castro appeared before cameras. It's extremely rare for Castro to give a press conference, though he has sometimes taken questions from reporters spontaneously when the mood strikes.

While the issue of political prisoners is hugely important to Cuban-Americans and the international community, most people on the island are more concerned about the shortage of goods and their struggles with local bureaucracy.

Castro appeared agitated at times during the questioning, professing not to understand whether inquiries were directed to him.

But when an American reporter asked about political prisoners in Cuba, he pushed back aggressively, saying if the journalist could offer up names of anyone improperly imprisoned, "they will be released before tonight ends."

"What political prisoners? Give me a name or names," Castro said.

Cuba has been criticized for briefly detaining demonstrators thousands of times a year but has drastically reduced its practice of handing down long prison sentences for crimes human rights groups consider to be political. Cuba released dozens of political prisoners as part of its deal to normalize relations with the U.S., and Amnesty International said in a recent report that it knew of no prisoners of conscience in Cuba.

Obama's and Castro's comments were broadcast live on state television, which like nearly all media in Cuba, is tightly controlled by the government and the Communist Party.

At an outdoor cafe in Havana, about a dozen Cubans and tourists watched in awed silence. One woman held her hand to her mouth in shock.

"It's very significant to hear this from our president, for him to recognize that not all human rights are respected in Cuba," said Raul Rios, a 47-year-old driver.

Ricardo Herrera, a 45-year-old street food vendor said, "It's like a movie but based on real life."

After responding to a handful of questions, Castro ended the news conference abruptly, declaring, "I think this is enough."

Obama's visit to Cuba is a crowning moment in his and Castro's bid to normalize ties between two countries that sit just 90 miles apart. The U.S. leader traveled with his family and was taking in the sights in Old Havana and attending a baseball game between the beloved Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays of America's American League.

Several American business leaders joined Obama on the trip, many eager to gain a foothold on the island nation. Technology giant Google announced plans to open a cutting-edge online technology center offering free Internet at speeds nearly 70 times faster than those now available to the Cuban public. Obama said Google's efforts in Cuba are part of a wider plan to improve access to the Internet across the island.

While Castro has welcomed increased economic ties, he insisted his country would still suffer as long as the American economic embargo was in place. Obama has called on Congress to lift the blockade, but lawmakers have not held a vote on the repeal.

"The embargo is going to end," Obama said. "When, I can't be entirely sure, but I believe it will end."

Obama's visit is being closely watched in the United States, where public opinion has shifted in support of normalized relations with Cuba. Still, many Republicans - including some hoping to succeed Obama as president - have vowed to roll back the diplomatic opening if elected.

Castro was asked by an American reporter whether he favored the election of Republican front-runner Donald Trump or likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Castro smiled and said simply, "I cannot vote in the United States."

AP writers Josh Lederman, Peter Orsi and Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this report.

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Pro-Israel policy conference nervously awaits Trump speech http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160321/GZ01/160329914 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160321/GZ01/160329914 Mon, 21 Mar 2016 08:24:18 -0400 By MATTHEW LEE AP Diplomatic Writer By By MATTHEW LEE AP Diplomatic Writer WASHINGTON (AP) - As America's leading pro-Israel group prepares to hear from nearly all the presidential candidates, most eyes in the audience of thousands will be on GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

He's the wild card whose previous comments about Israel have created some anxiety among many who will attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference this week in Washington.

Expect Republicans Ted Cruz and John Kasich to espouse standard conservative fare. Democrat Hillary Clinton probably will stick to well-known positions. Rival Bernie Sanders - trying to become the first Jewish candidate to win a major party's presidential nomination - is skipping the event.

Much like the American electorate at large, the pro-Israel community in the United States is anything but monolithic, and this year's conference appears set to highlight those different constituencies, including socially liberal Democratic Jews, establishment Republican Jews and conservative evangelical Christians.

In a broad sense, all the candidates confirmed to speak on Monday fall into one of those categories. Except Trump - and therein lies the angst.

"Trump has said a lot of things about Israel over the years, most of it favorable but some of it more ambiguous," said Josh Block, a former AIPAC official who now heads The Israel Project. "This will be an opportunity to address the ambiguity before a serious foreign policy audience."

AIPAC bills itself as nonpartisan and has never endorsed a candidate. Yet the organization has delved into highly partisan political debates over issues of interest to Israel, most recently and notably the Iran nuclear deal, which it vehemently opposed. In that, it is at odds with ardent deal supporters Clinton and Democrat Bernie Sanders, and to a certain degree, with Kasich, the lone Republican who has not said he would automatically rescind the pact.

Trump and Cruz have promised, if elected, to rip up the agreement.

Beyond that, Cruz has pledged absolute support for Israel, but Trump has been far from clear on how he would approach matters of deep concern to pro-Israel voters.

Unlike Cruz, Trump has not said he would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a perennial Republican campaign promise, and, unlike Cruz, he has said he will be neutral as a negotiator in trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Cruz's campaign website features an entire section on Israel; Trump's does not address it all.

On Mideast peace talks, Trump says: "You understand a lot of people have gone down in flames trying to make that deal. So I don't want to say whose fault it is - I don't think that helps." He also put off calls to clarify his position on the status of Jerusalem.

Trump said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" he will lay out his ideas for a peace deal in Monday's speech.

Clinton, meanwhile, has a long history in the Middle East, including overseeing as secretary of state the Obama administration's first attempt to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace with former Sen. George Mitchell as envoy. Her stance against Jewish settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians has been criticized by some in the pro-Israel community, but she has been received warmly by pro-Israel groups in the past, not least because she has a track record.

Trump, on the other hand, has something of a checkered record with pro-Israel Republicans. He drew boos last year from the Republican Jewish Coalition when he refused to take a stance on the embassy location and further raised eyebrows by using what many consider to be offensive stereotypes in moments of attempted levity. Similar remarks will not be welcomed at the AIPAC conference.

In addition, as they have done nationally, Trump's positions on immigration and Muslims and his apparent vacillation on support he is getting from figures known for anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric have caused concern among AIPAC members. And, as with other communities, comparisons of Trump to Hitler and Mussolini have clouded their impressions.

Some have announced they will protest Trump, if not by disrupting his speech, by walking out. Others have said the speech will be an important opportunity to hear Trump explain his views. The debate has played out in dramatic fashion since AIPAC issued its invitations and candidates began responding to them.

South Florida Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin is among a group of about 40 rabbis that plans to boycott Trump's address Monday evening, saying his appearance "poses political, moral, and even spiritual quandaries."

Then there are those who believe the speech will be an important opportunity to hear Trump explain his views, no matter how much they may disagree, and stay on good terms with a viable candidate for the highest office in the land.

"It's important that the lobby keep itself on decent terms with whatever powers govern in Washington," commentator J.J. Goldberg wrote in the Jewish newspaper The Forward.

On Sunday night, Vice President Joe Biden assured the group the Obama administration has done what it can to make the region more secure.

"Iran is much, much further away from obtaining a nuclear weapon than they were a year ago," he said.

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Sanders backers flock to rallies in Washington http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160320/GZ01/160329919 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160320/GZ01/160329919 Sun, 20 Mar 2016 23:11:04 -0400 By Kristena Hansen and Walker Orenstein The Associated Press By By Kristena Hansen and Walker Orenstein The Associated Press VANCOUVER, Wash. - More than 7,500 people turned out to a high school in Vancouver, Washington and another 10,300 showed up at an arena in Seattle on Sunday for Bernie Sanders rallies, two of three taking place in the state that day.

The Vermont senator spent the past week in Arizona, and now is taking his campaign to Washington and other West Coast states that he hopes will help him make up ground after a solid delegate lead built up by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

"Let us have a record-breaking turnout here in Washington," Sanders said at KeyArena in Seattle, rallying supporters with many familiar themes.

Clinton has a lead of more than 300 delegates over Sanders from primaries and caucuses following a sweep of five states Tuesday, so the Pacific Northwest has become important territory for him. Washington state, Alaska and Hawaii hold Democratic caucuses on Saturday, and Washington has the most delegates ultimately at stake with 101.

In Vancouver, Sanders declared to a packed gymnasium that the nation's economic, campaign finance and criminal justice systems are "rigged" and criticized pharmaceutical companies for rising drug costs.

What riled up the young, rowdy crowd most were Sanders' comments on health care and his support of gay marriage.

"Ten years ago, if somebody jumped up and said, 'I think that gay marriage will be legal in 50 states in America in the year 2015,' the person next to them would've said 'You are nuts, what are you smoking?"' Sanders said.

In Seattle, Sanders applauded the city's move to incrementally phase in a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2017 that took effect in April 2015.

Lines outside the stadium were huge before the event, and according to Seattle officials, 5,500 people remained outside during Sanders' speech and another 1,500 left when they didn't make it into the stadium. Sanders addressed the overflow crowd outside before his official remarks. Some in line said they had arrived at around 10:30 a.m. for the rally that began around 5:40 p.m.

Inside the arena, Sanders pledged to make it easier for people to vote. He elicited huge roars when addressing a number of issues such as racial justice, his intent to implement universal health care and fight climate change.

"In my view we have a moral responsibility to leave this planet to our children and grandchildren in a way that is healthy and habitable," said.

Washington is reliably Democratic when it comes to presidential elections. It hasn't gone for a Republican candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Vancouver, which has a population of 167,000, has been historically overlooked during presidential campaigns.

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Obama steps into new day for Cuba, America http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160320/GZ01/160329920 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160320/GZ01/160329920 Sun, 20 Mar 2016 22:06:19 -0400 By Julie Pace and Michael Weissenstein The Associated Press By By Julie Pace and Michael Weissenstein The Associated Press HAVANA - Stepping into history, President Barack Obama opened an extraordinary visit to Cuba on Sunday, eager to push decades of acrimony deeper into the past and forge irreversible ties with America's former adversary.

"This is a historic visit and a historic opportunity," Obama said as he greeted staff of the new U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Air Force One touched down on a rainy, overcast day in the Cuban capital. The president was joined by wife Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha.

Obama was greeted by top Cuban officials - but not President Raul Castro. The Cuban leader frequently greets major world figures upon their arrival at Jose Marti International Airport, but was absent on the tarmac. Instead, he planned to greet Obama today at the Palace of the Revolution.

Obama's whirlwind trip is a crowning moment in his and Castro's ambitious effort to restore normal relations between their countries. While deep differences persist, the economic and political relationship has changed rapidly in the 15 months since the leaders vowed a new beginning.

After greeting embassy staff, Obama and his family toured Old Havana by foot, despite a heavy downpour. They walked gingerly on the slippery wet stones in the square in front of the Havana Cathedral. A few hundred people gathered in the square erupted in applause and shouted Obama's name as the first family stepped forward.

The Obamas then dined at a privately-owned restaurant in a bustling, working class neighborhood. Jubilant crowds surged toward the president's heavily fortified motorcade as it inched through the San Cristobal restaurant.

For more than 50 years, Cuba was an unimaginable destination for a U.S. president, as well as most American citizens. The U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro's revolution sparked fears of communism spreading to the Western Hemisphere. Domestic politics in both countries contributed to the continued estrangement well after the Cold War ended.

"He wanted to come to Cuba with all his heart," 79-year-old Odilia Collazo said in Spanish as she watched Obama's arrival live on state television. "Let God will that this is good for all Cubans. It seems to me that Obama wants to do something good before he leaves."

Ahead of Obama's arrival, counter-protesters and police broke up an anti-government demonstration by the Ladies in White group, whose members were taken into custody by female police officers in a scene that plays out in Havana each Sunday. They're typically detained briefly and then released.

Obama's visit was highly anticipated in Cuba, where workers furiously cleaned up the streets in Old Havana and gave buildings a fresh coat of paint ahead of his arrival. American flags were raised alongside the Cuban colors in parts of the capital, an improbable image for those who have lived through a half-century of bitterness between the two countries.

Many Cubans stayed home in order to avoid extensive closures of main boulevards. The city's seaside Malecon promenade was largely deserted Sunday morning except for a few cars, joggers, fishermen and pelicans.

The president's schedule in Cuba is jam-packed, including an event with U.S. and Cuban entrepreneurs. But much of Obama's visit was about appealing directly to the Cuban people and celebrating the island's vibrant culture.

"I don't think that the Cuban people are going to be bewitched by North American culture," Gustavo Machin, Cuba's deputy director of U.S. affairs, told The Associated Press. "We don't fear ties with the United States."

A highlight of Obama's visit comes Tuesday when he joins Castro and a crowd of baseball-crazed Cubans for a game between the beloved national team and Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays. The president also planned a speech at the Grand Theater of Havana laying out his vision for greater freedoms and more economic opportunity in Cuba.

Two years after taking power in 2008, Castro launched economic and social reforms that appear slow-moving to many Cubans and foreigners, but are lasting and widespread within Cuban society. The changes have allowed hundreds of thousands of people to work in the private sector and have relaxed limits on cellphones, Internet and Cubans' comfort with discussing their country's problems in public, for example.

The Cuban government has been unyielding, however, on making changes to its single-party political system and to the strict limits on media, public speech, assembly and dissent.

Obama will spend some time talking with Cuban dissidents. The White House said such a meeting was a prerequisite for the visit. But there were no expectations that he would leave Cuba with significant pledges from the government to address Washington's human rights concerns.

A major focus for Obama was pushing his Cuba policy to the point it will be all but impossible for the next president to reverse it. That includes highlighting new business deals by American companies, including hotel chains Starwood and Marriott and online lodging service Airbnb.

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Northeast expecting wintry weather on 1st day of spring http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160318/GZ01/160319520 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160318/GZ01/160319520 Fri, 18 Mar 2016 15:31:26 -0400

BOSTON (AP) - After a mild winter, a weekend storm is bearing down on the Northeast just as residents are looking forward to the official start of spring.

More than 6 inches of accumulation is possible in places, mostly in New England and along coastal parts of the region. Forecasters say New York and Philadelphia should at least get a few inches.

Meteorologist Thomas Kines says the snow should start Sunday morning in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York. New England won't see the brunt of the inclement weather until Sunday night, when temperatures drop.

The snow could stick around through Monday morning in New England, possibly creating a messy commute and prompting school cancellations.

Kines calls March "a very fickle month." Sunday is the first day of spring.

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D.C. judge gets Obama Supreme Court nod http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160316/GZ01/160319647 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160316/GZ01/160319647 Wed, 16 Mar 2016 10:04:43 -0400 By Kathleen Hennessey and Mary Clare Jalonick The Associated Press By By Kathleen Hennessey and Mary Clare Jalonick The Associated Press WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama nominated federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, challenging Republicans to reject a longtime jurist and former prosecutor known as a consensus builder on what is often dubbed the nation's second-highest court.

Garland, 63, is the chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a court whose influence over federal policy and national security matters has made it a proving ground for potential Supreme Court justices.

He would replace Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative who died last month, leaving behind a bitter election-year fight over the future of the court.

The White House and members of Congress confirmed Obama's choice ahead of the president's 11 a.m. announcement at the White House.

White House officials said Obama believes Garland has a record of bipartisan support and is best poised to serve on the court immediately.

Garland was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 1997 with backing from a majority in both parties, including seven current Republicans senators.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democratic leader, called Garland's selection, "a bipartisan choice," adding: "If the Republicans can't support him, who can they support?"

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who spoke to Obama Wednesday morning, said in brief remarks on the Senate floor that Republicans must act on the president's choice.

"He's doing his job this morning; they should do theirs," said the Nevada Democrat.

If confirmed, Garland would be expected to align with the more liberal members, but he is not viewed as down-the-line liberal. Particularly on criminal defense and national security cases, he's earned a reputation as a centrist, and one of the few Democratic-appointed judges Republicans might have fast-tracked to confirmation - under other circumstances.

In the current climate, though, Garland will be a tough sell. Republicans control the Senate, which must confirm any nominee, and GOP leaders want to leave the choice to the next president, denying Obama a chance to alter the ideological balance of the court before he leaves office next January. Republicans contend that a confirmation fight in an election year would be too politicized.

Ahead of Obama's announcement, the Republican Party set up a task force that will orchestrate attack ads, petitions and media outreach. The aim is to bolster Senate Republicans' strategy of denying consideration of Obama's nominee. The party's chairman, Reince Priebus, described it as the GOP's most comprehensive judicial response effort ever.

On the other side, Obama allies have been drafted to run a Democratic effort that will involve liberal groups that hope an Obama nominee could pull the high court's ideological balance to the left. The effort would target states where activists believe Republicans will feel political heat for opposing hearings once Obama announced his nominee.

For Obama, Garland represents a significant departure from his past two Supreme Court choices. In nominating Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, the president eagerly seized the chance to broaden the court's diversity and rebalance the overwhelming male institution. Sotomayor was the first Hispanic confirmed to the court, Kagan only the fourth woman.

Garland - a white, male jurist with an Ivy League pedigree and career spent largely in the upper echelon of the Washington's legal elite - breaks no barriers. At 63 years old, he would be the oldest Supreme Court nominee since Lewis Powell, who was 64 when he was confirmed in late 1971.

Presidents tend to appoint young judges, with the hope they will shape the court's direction for as long as possible.

Those factors had, until now, made Garland something of a perpetual bridesmaid, repeatedly on Obama's Supreme Court lists, but never chosen.

But Garland has found his moment at a time when Democrats are seeking to apply maximum pressure on Republicans. A key part of their strategy is casting Republicans as knee-jerk obstructionists ready to shoot down a nominee that many in their own ranks once considered a consensus candidate. In 2010, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch called Garland "terrific" and said he could be confirmed "virtually unanimously."

The White House plans to highlight Hatch's past support, as well as other glowing comments about Garland from conservative groups.

A native of Chicago and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Garland clerked for two appointees of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower - the liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr. and Judge Henry J. Friendly, for whom Chief Justice John Roberts also clerked.

In 1988, he gave up a plush partner's office in a powerhouse law firm to cut his teeth in criminal cases. As an assistant U.S. attorney, he joined the team prosecuting a Reagan White House aide charged with illegal lobbying and did early work on the drug case against then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.

He held a top-ranking post in the Justice Department when he was dispatched to Oklahoma City the day after the bombing at the federal courthouse there, to supervise the investigation. The case made his career and his reputation. He oversaw the convictions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and went on to supervise the investigation into Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

President Bill Clinton nominated him to the D.C. Circuit in 1995.

His prolonged confirmation process then might prove to have prepared him for one ahead. Garland waited 2½ years to win confirmation to the appeals court. Then, as now, one of the men blocking his path was Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, who argued that he had no quarrel with Garland's credentials but a beef with the notion of a Democratic president trying to fill a court he argued had too many seats.

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Math and momentum point to Trump, Clinton nominations http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160316/GZ01/160319650 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160316/GZ01/160319650 Wed, 16 Mar 2016 08:15:10 -0400 By STEVE PEOPLES and JULIE PACE The Associated Press By By STEVE PEOPLES and JULIE PACE The Associated Press  

WASHINGTON (AP) – With math and momentum on his side after more big wins, Republican front-runner Donald Trump called on GOP leaders Wednesday to embrace the public’s “tremendous fervor” for his candidacy. If GOP leaders try to deny him the nomination at a contested convention when he is leading the delegate count, Trump predicted, “You’d have riots.”

Trump, making a round of calls to morning TV talk shows, predicted he’d amass enough delegates to snag the nomination outright before the Republican convention, but added that “there’s going to be a tremendous problem” if the Republican establishment tries to outmaneuver him at the convention. He also said some Republican senators who are publicly trashing him have called him privately to say they want to “become involved” in his campaign, eventually. Trump did not name any.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, ready for a November matchup against Trump, took aim at him after strengthening her position against rival Bernie Sanders with another batch of primary victories of her own.

“Our commander-in-chief has to be able to defend our country, not embarrass it,” Clinton said in a speech that largely ignored Sanders. “We can’t lose what made America great in the first place.”

Clinton triumphed in the Florida, Illinois, Ohio and North Carolina presidential primaries, putting her in a commanding position to become the first woman in U.S. history to win a major-party nomination. Trump strengthened his hand in the Republican race with wins in Florida, North Carolina, and Illinois but fell in Ohio to that state’s governor, John Kasich. Votes were also being counted in Missouri, though races in both parties there were too close to call.

Kasich, celebrating his win, told NBC’s “Today” show, “I dealt him a very, very big blow to being able to have the number of delegates.” He added that neither Trump nor Texas Sen. Cruz can win the general election.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio ended his once-promising campaign after a devastating home-state loss that narrowed the field to just three candidates: Trump, Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Even before Tuesday’s results, a group of conservatives was planning to meet to discuss ways to stop Trump, including a contested convention or rallying around a third-party candidate. While no such candidate has been identified, the participants in Thursday’s meeting planned to discuss ballot access issues, including using an existing third party as a vehicle or securing signatures for an independent bid.

A person familiar with the planning confirmed the meeting on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the gathering by name.

Even House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., did not rule out the idea of being drafted by the party at the convention.

“People say, ‘What about the contested convention?’ “ Ryan said in an interview with CNBC. “I say, well, there are a lot of people running for president. We’ll see. Who knows?”

With more than half the delegates awarded through six weeks of primary voting, Trump is the only Republican candidate with a realistic path to the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination through the traditional route.

Kasich prevented a total Trump takeover by denying him victory in Ohio. But after Tuesday’s contests, it’s mathematically impossible for the Ohio governor to win a majority of delegates before the GOP’s July national convention.

“No candidate will win 1,237 delegates,” Kasich’s chief strategist, John Weaver, declared in a post-election memo. He suggested Kasich is well-positioned to amass delegates in the upcoming primary contests to help bolster his position in a contested convention.

Cruz is in better position than Kasich, but he too faces a daunting mathematical challenge after losing four of five contests Tuesday. The Texas senator needs to claim roughly 75 percent of the remaining delegates to earn the delegate majority, according to Associated Press delegate projections.

With Rubio out of the race, Cruz welcomed the Florida senator’s supporters “with open arms.” The fiery conservative tried to cast the GOP nomination battle as a two-person race between himself and Trump.

On the Democratic side, Clinton’s victories were blows to Sanders and bolstered her argument that she’s the best Democrat to take on the eventual Republican nominee in the general election. Her win in Ohio was a particular relief for her campaign, which grew anxious after Sanders pulled off a surprising win last week in Michigan.

Clinton kept up her large margins with black voters, a crucial group for Democrats in the general election.

Clinton has at least 1,561 delegates, including the superdelegates who are elected officials and party leaders free to support the candidate of their choice. Sanders has at least 800. It takes 2,383 to win the Democratic nomination.

Trump’s Florida victory brought his delegate total to 621. Cruz has 396 and Kasich 138. Rubio left the race with 168 delegates.

Clinton was more willing than Republican officials to recognize the likelihood of a Trump nomination, warning supporters that the New York real estate mogul has laid out a “really dangerous path” for the country.

Republican voters continue to back Trump’s most controversial proposals, with two-thirds of those who participated in GOP primaries Tuesday saying they support temporarily banning Muslims from the United States, according to exit polls.

“There is great anger, believe me, there is great anger,” Trump said of voters.

AP writer Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.

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Trump, Clinton triumph in Florida; Rubio drops out http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160315/GZ01/160319664 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20160315/GZ01/160319664 Tue, 15 Mar 2016 21:12:21 -0400 By Julie Pace and Thomas Beaumont By By Julie Pace and Thomas Beaumont The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton triumphed Tuesday in Florida's presidential primaries, capturing the biggest prize on a crucial day of voting and showcasing the strength of the two front-runners. Trump's victory was a devastating blow to Marco Rubio, ending the Florida senator's once-promising White House campaign.

Rubio implicitly rebuked Trump throughout a speech announcing he was dropping out of the race, imploring Americans to "not give in to the fear, do not give in to the frustration."

Rubio, a favorite of Republican leaders, is the latest candidate to fall victim to an unpredictable election cycle and Trump's unmatched ability to tap into the public's anger with Washington and frustration with sweeping economic changes.

Clinton also picked up a win in North Carolina, while Trump was locked in a close contest there with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Votes were also being counted in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, but all were too close to call as polls closed.

Republicans were keeping an especially close eye on Ohio, where Trump was locked in a close race with the state's governor, John Kasich. A victory for the billionaire businessman in Ohio could put him on the clear pathway to the GOP nomination, with few opportunities for his remaining rivals to stop his stunning rise.

In Florida's winner-take-all Republican primary, he won 99 delegates.

Clinton, too, was looking to pull away from rival Bernie Sanders in Tuesday's contests. While Clinton holds a comfortable lead in the delegate count, Sanders was eager for a burst of momentum from Ohio that could build on his surprising win last week in Michigan.

Reprising a theme that helped propel that victory, Sanders has pounded Clinton's past support for trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he says has been a job-killer in the U.S.

"When it came down whether you stand with corporate America, the people who wrote these agreements, or whether you stand with the working people of this country, I proudly stood with the workers," Sanders said during a campaign stop Tuesday in Ohio. "Secretary Clinton stood with the big money interests."

According to early exit polls, Democratic voters were more likely to describe Sanders as honest, but more likely to describe Clinton's policies as realistic.

Campaigning Tuesday in North Carolina, Clinton said "the numbers are adding up in my favor." She signaled an eagerness to move on to a possible general election showdown with Trump, saying he's laid out a "really dangerous path" for the country.

Trump entered Tuesday's primaries embroiled in one of the biggest controversies of his contentious campaign. The GOP front-runner has encouraged supporters to confront protesters at his events and is now facing accusations of encouraging violence after skirmishes at a rally last week in Chicago.

The vibe at Trump's events has deepened the concern over his candidacy in some Republican circles. Rubio and Kasich have suggested they might not be able to support Trump if he's the nominee, an extraordinary stance for intraparty rivals.

Trump's closest competition so far has come from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is keeping close to the businessman in the delegate count. Cruz has been urging Rubio and Kasich to step aside and let him get into a one-on-one race.

Even before Tuesday's results, however, a group of conservatives was planning a meeting to discuss options for stopping Trump, including at a contested convention or by rallying around a third-party candidate. While such no candidate has been identified, the participants in Tuesday's meeting planned to discuss ballot access issues, including using an existing third party as a vehicle or securing signatures for an independent bid.

A person familiar with the planning confirmed the meeting on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the gathering by name.

If Trump sweeps Tuesday's contests, he'll cross an important threshold with more than 50 percent of the delegates awarded so far.

Despite concerns from party leaders, Republican voters continue to back Trump's most controversial proposals, with two-thirds of those who participated in GOP primaries Tuesday saying they support temporarily banning Muslims from the United States.

The exit polls were conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks.

Trump's Florida victory brought his delegate total to 568. Cruz has 370 delegates, Rubio has 163 and Kasich has 63. It takes 1,237 to win the GOP nomination.

Clinton has at least 1,353 delegates, including the superdelegates who are elected officials and party leaders free to support the candidate of their choice. Sanders has at least 625. It takes 2,383 to win the Democratic nomination.

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